By Steve Williams
Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield left the Tennessee basketball program last year affectionately known as “Peanut Butter and Jelly.”
So, with their former teammate’s collegiate career winding down, I’m going to call Jordan Bowden The Crust.
Most of us know the outer edge of a slice of bread – the crust – is not the tastiest part, but it contains the most nutrients. Many moms have told their kids, “Eat the crust, it’s good for you.”
Bowden hasn’t been the best player on the UT team during his career, but he has often been the most valuable member on the floor.
He can shoot the 3-ball or take it to the rim. He can defend as well as anyone in the conference. He has held up strong under pressure.
With Bowden being a local product from Carter High and a young man I watched, interviewed and respected on and off the court, it bothered me when I would hear fans criticize him as he went through a long shooting slump this season. Some wanted to cut the crust off and throw it away.
When asked what helped him get through the slump and handle the criticism, Jordan answered: “Just God and having my faith.”
Coach Rick Barnes stuck with Bowden because his defensive play remained strong and consistent. His patience paid off.
Some thought Bowden, an athletic 6-5 guard, had the best game of his career in the road loss at Auburn that saw the Tigers overcome a 17-point deficit in the second half.
“It was good to see the ball go in the basket,” said Jordan, “but I want to win.”
In addition to his defensive play, Bowden finished that game with a career-high 28 points, making nine of 12 field goals, three of four from 3-point range and all seven free throw attempts. He also had six assists, four rebounds and committed only two turnovers in 39 minutes of action.
“He played his heart out,” said Barnes.
Bowden also played well in the following road loss at Arkansas last week and was Vol Network color analyst Bill Justus’ UT Player of the Game.
“I think you are one of the most productive players in Tennessee basketball history,” Justus, a UT All-American guard in the late 1960s, told Bowden on the post-game show.
“Thank you,” said Jordan. “We still have three more games to go.”
The Florida Gators were scheduled to be in town Saturday. The Vols have a road trip to Kentucky Tuesday night and their regular season finale is Saturday at noon against Auburn at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It will be Senior Day for Bowden, who four years ago became the first Knoxville player to receive a basketball scholarship from UT since Doug Roth of Karns signed with the Vols in 1985.
I’ve written before that Bowden is one of the most exciting players I’ve seen in now over 50 years of following high school basketball on the local scene. He stood out mostly above the rim and played on a Carter team that averaged 92 points his senior season – second most in the nation.
Still, Bowden did not have any big-time offers coming out of high school and probably one of the best decisions he ever made was playing a year of prep ball on the 22 Feet Academy national team in Greenville, S.C., where he quickly gained the attention of major college programs.
As a college player, Bowden had to add to his game, although his rim-rocking, alley-oop slam off an in-bounds pass ranked No. 3 on Sports Center’s Top 10 plays in one of the first games he played at UT.
Bowden’s defensive play probably helped him get on the floor more than anything. He added 3-point shooting to his arsenal, and as a junior, he learned the point guard position.
Bowden broke into the starting lineup at Tennessee in just his second game as a freshman and made 28 starts his first season.
He averaged nine points per game as a sophomore, led the team in steals (39) and ranked second in 3-point percentage (.395).
Bowden was a valuable sixth man much of his junior campaign when the Vols took over No. 1 in the national rankings, scoring in double digits off the bench in six of the last eight games and 19 times on the season.
Jordan will be missed on and off the floor. I saw firsthand his community service with the Hoops for Hope program at Knoxville Christian School, where the UT men’s and women’s teams annually share their love of basketball with those who live with Down syndrome.
Hopefully, Bowden’s play and conduct will open the door for other Knoxville-area players to be recruited into the Tennessee program. Drew Pember, who played on Bearden’s Class AAA state championship team in 2019, was signed by the Vols last year.
As for Bowden, I believe he has a lot of good basketball still in him. He reminds me of former Vol Josh Richardson, who was drafted by Miami in the NBA and played four seasons with the Heat and is now with the Philadelphia 76ers.
I don’t see The Crust going stale anytime soon.